FORMER manufacturer Cleveland Bridge has been fined £1.5m following the death of a worker at its factory.

Industry giant Cleveland Bridge was found guilty of safety breaches after the death of Keith Poppleton, 54, at its facility on Yarm Road, Darlington, in 2016. 

Mr Poppleton, then of Tunstall Road, Stockton died after falling through an inspection hatch and landing on a pile of metal girders, an inquest in 2018 heard.

The 54-year-old sub-contractor was given CPR before he was taken to James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Cleveland Bridge, which collapsed last year after entering administration, was found guilty of failing to ensure the safety of an employee while working at height on overhead crane platforms.

Read more: Every step of the demise of Darlington's Cleveland Bridge

At Teesside Crown Court on Monday, the company was criticised for its shocking health and safety failures after it was revealed no inspections or maintenance had been carried out on the equipment at all since it was installed in 1983.

However, no representative of the liquidated company was present at any of the court hearings.

The Northern Echo: Catherine and Keith Poppleton. Picture: Handout. Catherine and Keith Poppleton. Picture: Handout.

The Poppleton family, including wife Catherine, were in court on Monday.

A victim impact statement read out in court described Mr Poppleton as "interesting, loving, intelligent, passionate about his interests, [and] exciting." 

Teesside Crown Court heard Mr Poppleton – a former college lecturer in Darlington and Stockton - was employed on an agency basis by a recruitment company based in Darlington.

He was repairing wiring that had been causing a short circuit on the lifting equipment of a large overhead gantry crane before falling to his death. 

Read more: Family slam Darlington's Cleveland Bridge after worker's death

Craig Hassall QC, prosecuting, said: “Mr Poppleton had been working on a raised walkway that was approximately eight metres above ground.

“As he walked along the walkway an access panel within it gave way. That panel fell to the ground followed by Mr Poppleton.”

The court heard an inspection after the incident found a ‘holding down clip’ below the crane, which had been attached to one of the steel mesh panels. Another panel on the same walkway was found to be in poor condition and a prohibition notice on the crane was issued.

Mr Hassall added: “Following the death the defending company replaced all of the removable access panels with permanent panels, welded into place within the recesses. It also introduced periodic inspections of the walkways, which had never been in place before.”

But the court heard the clip was the only one in place on the panel at the time when there should have been four.

On Mr Poppleton, judge Timothy Stead said: “It is quite apparent that he was not only an experienced electrician; he taught others and he had and set high standards. Nothing that he did, nothing that he could be argued to have failed to do had any bearing on what happened to him."

Cleveland Bridge was fined £8,000 in 2003 after an employee fell over one metre from a tower scaffold, the court heard.

Read more: Cleveland Bridge closure confirmed as rescue hopes crash

And judge Stead was scathing in his assessment of Cleveland Bridge, criticising its inability to introduce appropriate health and safety measures.

The Northern Echo:

“The entirety of the blame falls on Cleveland Bridge and its failings over a period of many years,” he said.

“The highest standards of safety had to be maintained with regard to that walkway. The evidence reveals there was no inspection or maintenance of that walkway at all. This is something that had prevailed for decades.

“The panels were designed to be held in place by clips. There should be four to secure each panel. If applied properly then it would prevent movement in the panel and any risk of it tipping into the void of it being free.

“The evidence reveals that at the time Keith Poppleton walked upon the gantry and fell through the void, when one of the panels gave way, that panel was only secured by one clip.

“How well even that one clip secured the panel is not entirely clear. Either way a particularly dangerous position.

“The risk involved in this state of affairs being allowed to prevail: no actual inspection, no one casually or informally taking a thing upon themselves - this was a position where any fall by any person would almost certainly be fatal.

“The culpability here is high. The principal reasons for that are that the company allowed the breaches to subsist over a long period of time. They failed to put in place measures which are recognised standards in such circumstances.”

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